Lost Among Europeans

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A few bits on communication

Mood’s a thing for cattle and love-play

that’s a quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune. In the under-appreciated David Lynch movie, the line is delivered with gusto by Patrick Stewart.

The book version is:

Mood’s a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset.

I quite agree. Mood should not be ignored, but some people force their mood on you too often, or at times they should not.

“I wonder what mood XYZ will be in today”, is not a good thing to have to ask yourself often about someone, be that a colleague or a president.

Delivering for your audience

The book Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs is one of my favorites. The authors, Gerald Jay Sussman and Harold Abelson, both received big awards for their teaching.

Phillip Greenspun, a former pupil, said this about Sussman’s approach to teaching:

Gerry Sussman, one of the great teachers at MIT, says that a student should walk out of a lecture with a new capability. I.e., the student should be able to do something that he or she could not do before. The student should also be able to state clearly what that new capability is.

In his fantastic book Indiscrete Thoughts, mathematician Gian Carlo Rota writes about a seminar lecture he attended:

The speaker was Eugenio Calabi. Sitting in the front row of the audience were Norbert Wiener, asleep as usual until the time came to applaud, and Dirk Struik who had been one of Calabi’s teachers when Calabi was an undergraduate at MIT in the forties. The subject of the lecture was beyond my competence. After the first few minutes I was completely lost. At the end of the lecture, an arcane dialogue took place between the speaker and some members of the audience, Ambrose and Singer if I remember correctly. There followed a period of tense silence. Professor Struik broke the ice. He raised his hand and said: “Give us something to take home!” Calabi obliged, and in the next five minutes he explained in beautiful simple terms the gist of his lecture. Everybody filed out with a feeling of satisfaction.

Brain dumps and short letters

Too often, communication consists of a person dumping what’s on their mind, with barely any effort to make it digestible or timely or relevant. In professional contexts, it is tolerated more than it should. It is even expected.

That famous quote is right:

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.

Only on many occasions, it’s not even time that is lacking.

More people should shout “Give us something to take home!”